Creating a SMART Online Marketing Strategy

So you want to create a Digital Marketing Strategy. Maybe the boss isn’t getting enough visibility into what you’re doing, maybe they’re concerned about digital’s rapid growth and wants to make sure the company isn’t being left behind, or maybe you want to create a plan to stop the cycle of reactive fixes and start being proactive. A well built online marketing strategy should:

  • Give you some time to work out needs and “nice-to-haves”. This is time outside of the “shopping list” reactive-work mentality that occupies most days in marketing.
  • Stop ridiculous external requests. Sorry Mr. Sales Manager, our priority this quarter is fixing website navigation and starting an online campaign to support our new non-toxic candy, I’ll have to get to your bus stop advertising campaign another day.
  • Give visibility to the outside and improve perception. You could be doing amazing, earth-shattering work but for many marketing leads and managers, perception outside of their department matters. A simple-to-understand plan shows that you’re proactive and that things will be moving forward.

There are a multitude of ways to structure an online marketing plan, but I prefer a Goal-Strategy-Tactic breakdown.

Goals/Top Metrics

The best goals are high-level enough to matter to the business and should unequivocally equal success for marketing. I find the best goals follow the SMART framework. This isn’t just a “suit” business thing; SMART goals are even used by people who are serious about guitar practice. Note: if your business already uses “goals” within company vernacular, you may need to call them something else to avoid confusion. You may be able to get away with “KPIs” or “Top Metrics” if you setup context carefully.

  • Specific: Keep the synergistic, empowering, leveraging business language out. Keep it specific to what you’re going to do.
  • Measurable: Can’t measure the goal? Then how are you going to tell whether to do SEO or bus-bench ads?
  • Achievable: Examine past company performance and existing industry trends to come up with a realistic, achievable goal.
  • Relevant: Your goals should be relevant to marketing. Don’t pick business goals that you can’t realistically influence.
  • Time-bound: All great goals have a target completion date. Without the date, you may lose urgency.

Great goal: Increase weekly web-generated leads by 25% by end of Fiscal 2014 to increase sales.

Not so great: Improve brand reach.

Not so great: Double sales.

Not so great: Migrate to new CRM system.

It’s important to remember that goals are not tasks or strategies, and they should link up with an important business goal. They should be directly linked to success or have a proven causal link with success. Just correlating marketing impact with sales trends is lazy and could turn out well or disastrous for you.


One level down from goals are strategies. Strategies are directions to take that may or may not work. Strategies are not tasks that can be completed.

Great strategy: Inform engineers about product benefits while they’re in the research phase.

Great strategy: Reduce client attrition with online retention mechanisms.

Not so great: Improve awareness.


What’s funny is that when most people start talking about “Strategy Planning”, what they really want to talk about are tasks. Without goals or a related strategy, tasks suck! They add up to a gigantic, never-ending list that marketing has to do. If you start with tasks, you rationalize and mash that task into strategies based on how you feel about that task. Tasks should never drive a strategy, but that’s the most common issue in online strategic marketing plans. How does it get to this? Easily:

Boss: “Competitor X has a Twitter account. We should get one too.”

Game, set, match, you lose. Your Online Marketing Strategy now exists to support a task. Tasks should be the last part of your strategy and should tie into a related strategy(s) and goal(s). Tasks CAN influence or hit more than 1 strategy or goal, but it’s important to denote which are expected to be influenced the most.

Within a Goal/Strategy framework, tasks become accountable for impacting real business objectives and have some strategic thought applied to them. By including your pre-meditated goals/strategy in your task description, you’re setting orientation and accountability for that task.

Good Task: To reduce time to hire (Goal) we will engage with programmers on Twitter with programming-specific content (strategy/tactic mashup). We may get some sales out of this tactic, but we’re primarily focused on getting qualified resumes soon after job postings to reduce time to fill positions.

Notice how easy it is to follow the bouncing ball from Twitter to an important business goal? We could pimp out this task with a specific timeline and maybe some specific numbers of resumes or positions filled, but it’s already a LOT better than what most people have. Goal and Strategy context makes tasks so much clearer.

Good Task: Improve sales (Goal) by retargeting prospects using AdWords remarketing. We should see an increase in repeat visitors to the website, and a corresponding increase in leads generated from those repeat visitors. We may also improve brand awareness by showing our brand multiple times to interested prospects, but we will not be measuring for that impact due to cost restraints on awareness gauging.

Not so great: Build a LinkedIn Business Page.

By building an Online Marketing Strategy and using the Goal/Strategy/Tactic framework, you can ensure you’re building the most impactful plan possible. So what are you waiting for? Get planning!

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